pandora

Pandora becomes Chromecast-enabled

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 12:30pm

Distribution. For most music services, the important distribution channels outside the computer are mobile and cars.

Developing for mobile means creating apps for the two major device platforms: iOS and Android. In some cases format-specific app designs are made for phones and tablets.

Extending into cars can mean enabling mobile app transfer to a digital dashboard, or forging automaker-specific business deals for placing the music service natively in the car’s audio entertainment system.

Distributing into the television might be lower priority for music services, but when a distribution link makes it easy, there’s no reason not to do it. Google makes it easy to bundle into Chromecast, and Pandora has done it. The Internet radio service joins video platforms Netflix and Hulu as Chromecast options.

Chromecast is a thumb-sized HDMI device that plugs into the TV. It looks like a flash drive, and costs 35 dollars -- one of the most startling bargains in technology, considering its mighty power. Chromecast enables streaming of any Internet content being viewed on any device using the Chrome browser. Chromecast partners (like Pandora, as of now) get a Chromecast icon in their apps, giving the user one-click transfer to the television away from the device’s browser.

Listening to music on the TV might not have mainstream uptake, but in living rooms equipped with home theater sound systems, it could catch on. Pandora is taking the lead here, as it has with in-car distribution.

Pandora releases Android tablet app

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 12:30pm

Pandora is making some fanfare over the release of a new Android tablet app, which re-packages Android version 5 for the bigger screen. Version 5 exists for Android phone and Apple phones, with the same essential features as the tablet version, but in a compressed form.

We like music services in tablets -- Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, iHeart, and many others get lots of tablet time in the RAIN editorial office. We’re not sanguine about the mainstream future of mobile listening on tablets, especially in the car where the convenience of smartphones rules the cockpit. But tablets give app developers enough room to create multiple overlying swipe screens, which comprise the great navigation advantage of larger devices.

The release gives Pandora an opportunity to brag about version-5 features:

  • Informational artist pages with Music Genome characteristics. Those Genome aspects, while just a fraction of a complex music analysis, give an indication of why Pandora selected the music for you to hear.
  • A timeline profile which tracks your actions in the app -- e.g. thumbing up and down, creating new stations, and social actions. We especially love the ability to leave a comment on one’s own feed, to been by all followers.
  • A social feed, similar to spotify’s which reveals what your Pandora friends are listening to.

We notice that although Pandora displays album art of tracks previously played by the current station, you cannot backskip to those tracks, as you can do in the new Rhapsody Android app. (See the RAIN review here.)

Pandora makes a beautifully designed product in our view. The web app has been elegant for years, undimmed through many revisions. Synchronization across all devices works nicely, and the version-5 features are implemented everywhere. We do note that a heavy visual ad load plagues reduces the pleasure of phone access, where the small screen doesn’t give ads any room for discrete placement (and perhaps encourages subscribing to the ad-free version).

SoundCloud reaches 250-million listeners

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 12:10pm

While Pandora’s “active listener” metric hovers around 73-million (72.7M reported in September), and iTunes Radio brags of attracting 20-million unique users in its first month, SoundCloud is quietly rolling up an impressive user base. TechCrunch reports from its Disrupt Europe conference that the audio-upload site now hosts 250-million “monthly active listeners.”

SoundCloud was founded in 2008 as a storage service and collaboration platform for music producers. In early days, the founders compared SoundCloud to Flickr, the photo-sharing site. Today, it makes sense to compare SoundCloud to YouTube. As Google reportedly prepares a formalized YouTube music service, it is interesting to see SoundCloud’s user-generated content approach as an audio-only parallel to YouTube.

Soundcloud has long offered subscription plans, but geared to creators who upload audio, not to listeners. All listening and organizing of music on SoundCloud is free, unlimited, and without advertising. Revenue comes entirely from subscriptions. Paid accounts are for creators, who pay for additional space for uploading and enhanced statistics. In this way SoundCloud historically has been focused on delivering premium value to the creator side of its user base.

Last December SoundCloud launched a redesigned site with listener-friendly features and a clear intent to build up the listener side. The site’s content is far-reaching (again, like YouTube), ranging from the rawest of amateur uploads to well-known artists sharing clips, full releases, outtakes, and live audio. It all adds up to a fascinating and engaging landscape for the inquisitive, lean-in user. Some lean-back functionality was added in the redesign, too, keeping the music flowing radio-style.

The repositioning of SoundCloud as a music listening service seems to be working from the vantage of growing audience, which has grown from 200-million to 250-million since July.

TuneIn reaches milestone: 100,000 radio stations

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 12:10pm

Aggregation platform TuneIn announced today that its portfolio of streaming radio stations has reached 100,000 -- “the most radio stations ever in one place,” according to the press release.

TuneIn is taking the long-tail approach to radio stations, adding broadcasts of German soccer leagues and a wide spectrum of international broadcasters. The service is not afraid of innovative programming, recently getting attention for setting up a 24-hour This American Life stream, featuring a non-interactive flow from that public radio show’s 18-year archive.

TuneIn currently reports a user base of 40-million active listeners, and distributes its brand to 50 automobile models for in-car listening. It might not be natural to think of TuneIn as fitting into the streaming music competition, but for all the talk about Apples’ 20-million listeners, and Pandora’s 73-million actives, TuneIn’s high-profile position as a radio and progamming aggregator is grabbing share and reach.

Survey and Interview: iTunes Radio little threat to Pandora

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - 12:25pm

Investment firm Canaccord Genuity surveyed Pandora users who have tried iTunes Radio, to get a picture of its existential threat to Pandora. The survey’s headline indicates a limited downside to Pandora: “92% of iTunes Radio Listeners Still Use Pandora.” RAIN spoke with Michael Graham, author of the research note, to flesh out the survey’s conclusions.

It is important to note that the survey and its report are part of a “Buy” recommendation for Pandora stock, to the company’s investment clients. We asked Graham about the integrity of the research.

“We commissioned this survey from an outside party,” Graham told RAIN. “We had no influence over the who the respondents were. We presented the data as we got it. Obviously there are different ways to interpret it. But the data that we’re showing is raw.”

While the context gives this survey an agenda (Graham: “We’re bullish on Pandora”), it presents an interesting antidote to the fuzzy media math surrounding the iTunes Radio-vs.-Pandora comparison of audience metrics reported by the two companies. (See RAIN coverage here.) Apple recently announced 20-million unique users have listened to iTunes Radio, while Pandora cited 72.7-million active listeners were engaged with Pandora in September.

The research also peers below the pure number of listeners in each service, to discern the reaction and intent of those listeners when evaluating the two competing music platforms. Following are excerpts of our conversation with Michael Graham. 

RAIN: What was the purpose of the project, and the sample size?

MG: We surveyed 860 users, all “iDevice” [Apple] users. We asked them a few qualifying questions: First, are you an active Pandora listener? Second, are you using iOS 7? Third, have you tried iTunes Radio? We then asked them a few questions to compare and contrast the two services, and what their intentions were for future listening.

The purpose was to understand better how competitive the landscape is becoming. We’re bullish on Pandora stock. We’ve tried iTunes Radio extensively, and found it to have good and bad points. We wanted to see what consumers at large think of it. In the short term, we wanted to gauge what the impact would be of Pandora’s October audience metrics.

RAIN: What are the key takeaways?

MG: Number one, 92 percent of those who tried iTunes Radio indicated that they have gone back to using Pandora at least a little bit. Sixty-six percent indicated that they resumed using Pandora as much, or more, than before using iTunes Radio. About 40 percent said they are using Pandora more than iTunes Radio. This is significant. It means that a very small portion will listen to iTunes Radio and never listen to Pandora again. The others will probably fire up their Pandora account in October. So, short-term, we don’t think the October listener metrics [for Pandora] are going to suffer much.

Longer term, I think the implication is that there will be a lot of people using both services. If we roll forward the math behind all this, the eight percent portion of the addressable market that iTunes Radio can go after (not Android, Windows PC), we come to about one percent of the Pandora listener base that is at heavy-duty risk of leaving, and going to iTunes Radio. That’s a much smaller number than most people are scared of.

RAIN: Do the data indicate whether iTunes Radio is expanding the market for streaming listening, or merely is dividing the existing pie differently?

MG: We didn’t explicitly ask that. As a matter of fact -- our survey only questioned Pandora listeners, so we only determined whether iTunes Radio was dividing the market or not. My hunch is that it is expanding the market, and a big chunk of those 20-million [Apple-reported unique listeners] is incremental.

RAIN Hotspots: Week of Oct. 21-25

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 11:45am

Here are the top five, most-read articles this week, published at any time. 

Sirius XM apparently drops stations, infuriates users: RAIN noticed that Sirius XM’s Facebook page was exploding with comments from outrages users, over missing stations in the satellite broadcaster’s channel lineup. We never got a response to several requests for comment from Sirius XM. [READ]

Sirius XM will reportedly drop Clear Channel stations soon: Related to the above, from which many readers clicked over for background information. Sirius XM remains in the news, having announced slightly higher subscription prices for 2014. [READ]

Apple announces 20-million iTunes Radio users; fuzzy math abounds: The Apple-vs.-Pandora media tornado got moving when Cupertino announced latest audience metrics for iTunes Radio. Problems arise when you compare apples to oranges. (See what we did there?) [READ]

INTERVIEW: Jim Lucchese, CEO, The Echo Nest: Readers settled into Part 1 of our conversation with the head of a powerful unseen force in music services. [READ] (Part 2 is here.) 

Microsoft’s new Web Playlist dismantles traditional “station” listening: Readers are interested in a unique new feature in Xbox Music that unleashes the hidden musical quality of web pages. [READ]

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